We all get angry. It’s a normal, useful, healthy emotion. It’s not our anger that gets us in trouble. It’s the way in which we express, or suppress, it that that exacerbates the situation.
The majority of people I’ve met believe that there are only two ways of handling anger: the first is with an aggressive or explosive response; the second to remain silent. Both are fear-based and carry hefty consequences. Growing up, I remember hearing adults say, “Nice people don’t get angry.” Wanting to be good and have the approval of others, I learned early-on not to express my true feelings. This put me at a huge disadvantage, particularly as I got older. Unable to say what was on my mind, my anger often built up to the point where I was no longer able to contain it and sadly, I directed it at the ones least able to defend themselves against me. In my early thirties, I developed an eating disorder (more accurately, a feelings disorder) as a method of dealing with years of pent up emotions. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I realize two things: first, that everyone has a God-given right to accurately express how they feel; and second, how to do so – and with authority.
Some of the more common reasons for not speaking up are: “I don’t want to make the other person angry, hurt their feelings or get them upset; I’m afraid of how they may react to what I say or what they may think about me; what if I make matters worse but saying how I feel? I’m afraid that if I say something it’ll come out wrong.” Each of these concerns reveals a lack of confidence and self-esteem. Under certain conditions it may be prudent to remain silent in the moment. For example, if a police officer pulls you over for a broken tail light when you’re late for work.
Both aggressive responses or passive silence rarely prove beneficial in the long run. Here are some examples of assertive, confident responses and why they work:
Ex:. # 1: Your neighbor leaves their dog unattended outside all day every day. As canines often do, the dog barks incessantly. During the summer months your windows are open and the sound filters throughout your entire house, providing little respite other than a closet at the far end of the house. “What the (blank) is wrong with people? They should know that a barking dog is annoying to anyone who isn’t deaf!” But manners dictate a more thoughtful conversation as you venture up the sidewalk to their front door. “Hi, Joan. Your dog is beautiful. What breed is it? I can see how much you love him – he certainly has a nice big yard to run around in. I’m not sure if you’re aware but he barks most of the time he’s outdoors. Being in such close proximity I can hear his barking all day. After awhile it’s hard for me to deal with. Is there something you can do to help with this situation? I’d really appreciate it.”
In this scenario, you begin with a general statement of good will acknowledging her beloved canine. You continue with a sincere comment about the loving care she provides for him before inquiring as to whether or not she’s aware that there is a problem. At that point, you seek her assistance in rectifying this issue and express your gratitude in advance.
Ex. #2: You post on a social media site only to have someone comment in a rude and disrespectful manner. Your first response is to call them a derogatory name and tell them to put their opinions where the sun don’t shine. But upon further consideration, you choose the following response: “While I certainly don’t expect that everyone agree with my position on this matter I am fine with others posting opposing points of view. What I do take exception to are remarks that are offensive and judgmental. I do not find them productive and in the future ask that you refrain from making such statements. Thank you.”
In this circumstance, you’ve respectfully acknowledge their opposing viewpoint followed by an objection to an offensive comment. You’ve addressed the issue rather than attack the individual. You conclude with a firm request. In every way, your response reflected confidence, authority, and respect.
Aggressive responses, such as yelling, screaming, threatening, slamming doors and such show a blatant lack of respect for the other party. Based on a need to control the circumstances, they fail to take into consideration the other party’s knowledge of the situation, feelings, needs, or rights.
Remaining silent not only cheats you but robs the other party of knowing how you feel, thereby possibly continuing the unacceptable behavior and prolonging an uncomfortable situation.
By all means, if you are upset rant – in your head, in front of a mirror or to a safe third party. Get if off your chest. Then, when you have calmed down, think about what you need to say and the most effective way to do so. Write a script. Examine the pros and cons of each statement. Edit as needed. Rehearse it until you feel comfortable with it. Then approach the individual you need to speak with and say what’s on your mind. In essence:
1. State how you feel (angry, upset, frustrated, etc).
2. Make an opinion-based or fact-based statement about the behavior of the other party. Address the issue, do not attack the individual.
3. Continue with an expectation of further interactions, the manner in which you expect the other party to treat you.
4. If necessary, and only when appropriate with the individual or for the situation, impose fair and reasonable boundaries.
5. Always be truthful, clear, respectful, concise, confident, and unwavering.
Silence may be golden but sometimes it’s only gold-plated. And once the veneer wears away, what’s revealed can be unsightly, fermented anger. And that can be far more damaging to everyone in the long run. So speak up. Use what God gave you. It is your right.
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